The Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks
ha-Mossad le-Modiin ule-Tafkidim Meyuhadim
Mossad [Hebrew for "institution"] has responsibility for human intelligence collection, covert action, and counterterrorism. Its focus is on Arab nations and organizations throughout the world. Mossad also is responsible for the clandestine movement of Jewish refugees out of Syria, Iran, and Ethiopia. Mossad agents are active in the former communist countries, in the West, and at the UN.
Mossad is headquartered in Tel Aviv. The staff of Mossad was estimated during the late 1980s to number between 1,500 to 2,000 personnel, with more recent estimates placing the staff at an estimated 1,200 personnel. The identity of the director of Mossad was traditionally a state secret, or at least not widely publicized, but, in March 1996, the Government announced the appointment of Major General Danny Yatom as the replacement for Shabtai Shavit, who resigned in early 1996. Danny Yatom resigned on February 24, 1998, following the release of the Ciechanover Commission report which dealt with the failed attempt to assassinate Khalid Meshaal, a top Hamas political leader, and thus found faults with his performance as head of Mossad. Yatom was replace in early March 1998 by Efraim Halevy, then Israel's representative to the European Union. Halevy, as a Mossad agent, had previously worked behind the scenes to help negotiate the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.
Formerly known as the Central Institute for Coordination and the Central Institute for Intelligence and Security, Mossad was formed on 01 April 1951. Mossad was established by then Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, who gave as Mossad's primary directive: "For our state which since its creation has been under siege by its enemies. Intelligence constitutes the first line of defence...we must learn well how to recognise what is going on around us."
Mossad has a total of eight departments, though some details of the internal organization of the agency remain obscure.
- Collections Department is the largest, with responsibility for espionage operations, with offices abroad under both diplomatic and unofficial cover. The department consists of a number of desks which are responsible for specific geographical regions, directing case officers based at "stations" around the world, and the agents they control.
- Political Action and Liaison Department conducts political activities and liaison with friendly foreign intelligence services and with nations with which Israel does not have normal diplomatic relations. In larger stations, such as Paris, Mossad customarily had under embassy cover two regional controllers: one to serve the Collections Department and the other the Political Action and Liaison Department.
- Special Operations Division, also known as Metsada, conducts highly sensitive assassination, sabotage, paramilitary, and psychological warfare projects.
- LAP (Lohamah Psichlogit)Department is responsible for psychological warfare, propaganda and deception operations.
- Research Department is responsible for intelligence production, including daily situation reports, weekly summaries and detailed monthly reports. The Department is organized into 15 geographically specialized sections or "desks", including the USA, Canada and Western Europe, Latin America, Former Soviet Union, China, Africa, the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia), Libya, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran. A "nuclear" desk is focused on special weapons related issues.
Israel's most celebrated spy, Eli Cohen, was recruited by Mossad during the 1960s to infiltrate the top echelons of the Syrian government. Cohen radioed information to Israel for two years before he was discovered and publicly hanged in Damascus Square. Another Mossad agent, Wolfgang Lotz, established himself in Cairo, became acquainted with high-ranking Egyptian military and police officers, and obtained information on missile sites and on German scientists working on the Egyptian rocket program. In 1962 and 1963, in a successful effort to intimidate the Germans, several key scientists in that program were targets of assassination attempts. Mossad also succeeded in seizing eight missile boats under construction for Israel in France, but which had been embargoed by French president Charles de Gaulle in December 1968.
In 1960, Mossad carried out one of its most celebrated operations, the kidnapping of Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann from Argentina. Another kidnapping, in 1986, brought to Israel for prosecution the nuclear technician, Mordechai Vanunu, who had revealed details of the Israeli nuclear weapons program to a London newspaper. During the 1970s, Mossad assassinated several Arabs connected with the Black September terrorist group. Mossad inflicted a severe blow on the PLO in April 1988, when an assassination team invaded a well-guarded residence in Tunis to murder Arafat's deputy, Abu Jihad, considered to be the principal PLO planner of military and terrorist operations against Israel. Gerald Bull, a Canadian scientist who developed the famed "Super Gun" for Iraq was killed by the Mossad at his Brussels apartment in March 1990, effectively halting the development of the Supergun project.
Egyptian security services reported the discovery of a total of seven Israeli espionage networks during 1996, which is a significant increase compared to the 20 similar networks discovered in the previous 15 years.
And Mossad's record has also been blemished by a few embarrasing failures. In Lillehammer, Norway, on 07 January 1974, Mossad agents mistakenly killed Ahmad Boushiki, an Algerian waiter carrying a Moroccan passport, whom they mistook for PLO security head Ali Ahmad Salameh, believed to have masterminded the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics [Salameh was killed in a 1979 car-bomb explosion in Lebanon]. Following the attack, the Mossad agents were arrested and tried before a Norwegian court. Five Israeli agents were convicted and served short jail sentences, though Israel denied responsibility for the murder. In February 1996, the Israeli government agreed to compensate the family of Ahmad Boushiki.
On 15 November 1995, Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, an Israeli citizen. Following the controversy over the failure of intelligence to protect Rabin, and the embarrassment over the mistaken assassination of a Swedish national, the Director Geneneral of Mossad, known only as 'S', was forced into retirement. On 24 March 1996, Prime Minister Shimon Peres appointed Major General Danny Yatom as the new Director General of Mossad, the first Director of Mossad to ever be publically identified.
On 24 September 1997, Mossad operatives attempted to assassinate Khalid Meshaal, a top political leader of the Palestinian group Hamas. The assassins entered Jordan on fake Canadian, and injected Meshaal with a poison. Jordan was able to wring a number of concessions out of Israel in the aftermath of the fiasco, including the release of the founder of Hamas, Shaykh Ahmad Yasin, from an Israeli jail.
Ephraim Halevy, a nephew of the late Sir Isaiah Berlin [who helped to negotiate a peace deal with Jordan], became the new head of Mossad after two bungled operations led to the arrests of agents in Switzerland and Jordan. Mossad scaled down overseas assassinations after the bungled operations in the late 1990s. But by 2002 Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to remove Halevy, after the two clashed repeatedly about what strategy to adopt against Palestinian violence
In October 2002 General Meir Dagan, who served in the Israeli Army with Ariel Sharon, and assisted him during his election campaign, was confirmed as head of Mossad. Dagan led an undercover commando unit that tracked and killed Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. Sharon wanted Mossad to go back to the undercover and special operations for which it was renowned.